Why this freelancer no longer offers discounts

Dec 13, 2018

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I recently cut my price for book formatting and book cover design in half, hoping to help out a fellow author whom I didn’t know, and had never met.

I did so because I thought her book was decently written and because she had several books under her belt, albeit with horrid covers. We shared some personal interests and I thought I’d be doing her a favor. I’ve given discounts to Muslims, Christians, LGBTQ authors, other faiths and religions, single parents, divorced dads... pretty much anyone who convinced me they had a “great book” and a good cause and were passionate about their work. They all convinced me that a discount would help them get their book published and help them achieve their dream.

This woman was no different. She had listed a full schedule of services she wanted, many of which I typically hired out to others. I agreed to a lower price, but with some hesitation.

Scope creep

I should have listened to my gut. I don’t mind helping, but not if additional services are going to come out of my pocket. I cut out the services I would need to hire out.

Apparently, she didn’t read that part and halfway through the work wanted more than the agreed upon number of revisions, more work, additional copy edits and things that would have brought the total cost back up to, you guessed it, my original bid. The scope creep continued.

When I reminded her of the agreement and then said, “I’ve gone above and beyond, and have given you a deep discount, and now I feel like I’m being taken advantage of,” she cancelled the contract and went to the administrator of the site and wanted half of her money back – but wanted to keep and use the formatted interior and cover.

I’ve had clients do this in the past and have simply written them off and blocked them from hiring me again, eaten the loss and suffered in angry silence. This time I decided my days of being Santa Claus and helping others was done.

It's all about boundaries

My decision wasn’t made entirely out of anger. A friend and business coach sat down with me and pointed out that discounting my normal and fair rate helped no one. Not only was I not giving a client my best work, I tended to resent them when they asked for more work, or when the inevitable “scope creep” began.

With clients paying full freight I don’t hesitate to point out that something is scope creep and to initiate a change order and charge for the extra work. With these “poor, poverty infested souls” I’m being “generous” with, my attitude is one of, “Okay, they can’t afford this, and they’ll tell me they can’t afford it, so I should just suck it up and do it.” That leads to me resenting them, not respecting them, and my feeling anger over my failure to set and enforce healthy boundaries. I’m not blaming them. I’m angry with myself for not respecting my own boundaries!

I turned to my mentor/coach. She told me she had struggled with the same issue. She stopped coaching clients at a reduced rate for similar reasons. The cost of services she had built in with her full fare clients for things like extra time, phone calls and emails, wasn’t part of the discounted rate. She too felt resentment, and that she couldn’t deliver her full attention to clients who weren’t paying her fees. It bothered her to think that was happening, but it was. The incomplete experience then led to less than stellar results, and that meant bad word-of-mouth! By trying to help others who couldn’t afford her, she was hurting her own business. So, she stopped doing that.

No more discounts

We decided that not giving discounts any more is the best action to take to ensure integrity and performance. Offering a different service, (She will answer email questions rather than take a phone call – less time and she can fit it into her down time) does work and everyone is happy. So now, when a person asks, “Can you do a book cover for $25? (My lowest rate is $150)” I tell them “No.” I direct them to services online where they can get a $25 cover, but I no longer turn to my inner Santa Claus to “gift” them a $150 cover for $25. I give them examples of covers I’ve done for $75 and $100 – essentially a stock photo and title, or a template, but no composites, no customized covers.

Most are unhappy with that affordable option. They really wanted a lot for a little. Some are thrilled. Others stomp away in a huff, offended they can’t get a brand-new Mercedes for the price of a 30-year-old used car.

What I’ve learned is that what other people can or can’t afford is not my problem or my responsibility. My responsibility is to understand what I need to charge to make a living for myself. By offering a discounted price, I offer a lower service – either consciously or subconsciously and cut into my profit margin. Rather than a discount, I’ve learned that offering reduced options – kind of like flying business over first class – I can honor myself, respect my client, and everyone gets what they need.

If you’re feeling pressured to accept a job for less than your standard rate, think about why you’re doing it and what the impact will be. Are you desperate for money, any money right now? Been there, done that. Are you desperate for attention, to be liked? Been there too. Or, are you hoping this desperate, starving person will really become famous and really will pay you when their ship comes in? I have more than a dozen clients who have succeeded, but none have hired me again, or even responded to emails, texts or phone calls, let alone sent me a check.

Think carefully about taking on a free or deeply discounted job. You may be tying up the time you could be taking on a good paying job that advances your career. I’m not against helping, but I am advocating careful, measured decisions about how to help.

Becky Blanton is a TED Global Speaker, ghostwriter, and graphic designer.